Here, then, we have two remarkable consequences of the tides which are inseparably connected. Remember, also, that we are not enunciating any mere speculative doctrine. These results are the inevitable consequences of the tides. If the earth had no seas or oceans, no lakes or rivers; if it were an absolutely rigid solid throughout its entire mass—then these changes could not take place. The length of the day would never alter, and the distance of the moon would only fluctuate between narrow limits.
As thousands of years roll on, the length of the day increases second by second, and the distance of the moon increases mile by mile. These changes are never reversed. It is the old story of the perpetual dropping. As the perpetual dropping wears away the stone, so the perpetual action of the tides has sculptured out the earth and moon. Still, the action of the tides continues. To-day is longer than yesterday; yesterday is longer than the day before. A million years ago the day probably contained some minutes less than our present day of twenty-four hours. Our retrospect does not halt here; we at once project our view back to an incredibly remote epoch which was a crisis in the history of our system.
Let me say at once that there is great uncertainty about the date of that crisis. It must have been at least 50,000,000 years ago. It may have been very much earlier. This crisis was the interesting occasion when the moon was born. I wish I could chronicle the event with perfect accuracy, but I can not be sure of anything except that it was more than 50,000,000 years ago.
I do not admit that there is anything discreditable about this uncertainty. Do you not know that our historians, who have records and monuments to help them, are often in great confusion about dates? I am not going to find any fault with historians. They do their best to learn the truth; but I can not help reminding you that they are often as much in the dark about centuries as the astronomers are about millions. Take, for example, the siege of Troy, which Homer has immortalized, and ask the historians to state the date of that event. Some say that the siege of Troy was 1184 b. c., others that it was 900 b. c.; both are equally uncertain. Schliemann says that he found the remains of the town burned down, but that no one knows who did it or when it was done. Others, again, say that there was never any siege of Troy at all.
A recent instance which has attracted great and deserved attention is Schliemann's discovery at Mycenæ of what he considers to have been the tomb of Agamemnon. The tomb certainly did contain the remains of some mighty man, if we may judge by the hundred-pound weight of gold ornaments which were found there. Most people think that these tombs, whosesoever they were, date from at least 1000 b. c. On the other hand, some very high authorities regard the monuments as the tombs of northern invaders who came into Greece 500–600 a. d.